How to Really Shop on a Budget

Anyone can be a great shopper—all it takes is a little training and a pocketful of coupons. Below are some great budget shopping tips to help you on your path to becoming a world-class budget shopper.

How to Shop on a Budget

1. Know what looks good on you. Just because it looks great in a magazine doesn’t mean it will look great on you. Be honest with yourself about your body. It will save you time and money.

2. Practice the Cost Per Wear. The price of an item, just reflects it’s price. The price of an item DOES NOT reflect it’s value. STOP and reread the previous sentence. You should base the value of an item, particularly in the case of shopping on a budget, on how much you will actually use the item. The Cost Per Wear ™ formula helps you assess this value through a very simple equation. Just divide the cost of the item by the number of times you will wear it in a given period. So a $100 shirt worn 20 times has a cost per wear of $5. The goal is to shoot for a CPW of less than $3.

The CPW is important because there’s a tendency for budget shoppers to focus only on the price of an item, which often leads to purchases based upon price (ie- wow this is so cheap) versus usefulness (wow I wear this everyday).

3. Leave the debit and credit cards at home. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who views paying for purchases with plastic cards as not spending “real” money. Paying with cash gives you an instant visual indication of how much you’re spending.

4. Head to the outlet malls. Shopping at the outlets of your favorite stores and designers can save you a bundle. Some of my favorites are the Chelsea Premium Outlet Malls, Off Fifth (the Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet), the St. John Knit Outlet, the Donna Karan Outlet, and the Last Call Neiman Marcus Outlet.

5. Remember the 70/30 rule. Fashionistas with limited budgets should follow the 70/30 rule: 70% of your closet should be classic pieces, 30% trendy pieces. Go as cheap as possible on trendy items because they have a short closet lifespan; purchase these pieces at stores like H&M, Target, Forever 21, Wet Seal,, Zara, Bluefly , Urban Outfitters, etc. Go designer on classic pieces like black suits (Tahari, Donna Karan), coats (Burberry, MaxMara), evening (Armani, Tim and Linda Platt, Carmen Marc Valvo) and purses (Coach, Longchamp, Marc Jacobs).
6. Recycle fashion. Pay a visit to your mother and/or grandmother. While you’re there, offer to help clean out her closet. You’ll be amazed at the goodies you’ll find. While visiting my grandma in Milwaukee, I discovered a vintage Coach saddle bag, dating from around 1960, in mint condition in a box of old magazines. If you are unable to visit a relative’s closet, hold a clothing swap party with your friends. Ask everyone to bring unwanted, high-quality clothing to exchange for similar items from other party-goers.

7.Learn where and when to buy. July/August and late January/February are the best times to hit the stores for deals.  The top sample sales in NYC usually happen between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and after Christmas. Write down the names of your favorite stores, go to their websites, and register to receive coupons, special invitations and notifications of new products. Many stores, like Steve Madden, give coupons to shoppers for registering for their email list serve. Outlet stores are also great sources of designer goods.

8. Keep a shopping list. Making a shopping list will help you stay focused on the shopping task at hand and reduce splurge purchases.

The Budget Fashionista has several FREE fashion downloads available, including a printable shopping list. Write down the maximum amount you would like to spend on each item and use that as guide to help you make informed purchase decisions.

9. Locate the nearest thrift store. Use thrift stores to add a bit of originality to your wardrobe. Print out my guide to designers and search for pieces like vintage jewelry, designer dresses and quality inexpensive coats.

10. Get Mobile Apps There’s several top mobile coupon applications, available for smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, Android, etc), that help you compare prices between stores, send you coupons, and more. Many charge $.99-$3.99 per month for the app, so make sure you use them frequently to get the most bang for your buck. For a list of awesome mobile coupon apps, head to our our list of top mobile coupon apps.

11. Know the names of sales associates. Sales associates are a great source of information on upcoming sales and have access to Friends and Family coupons, which offer up to an additional 25% off store merchandise. Some might even let you use their employee discounts.

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  1. Zena says

    Can you tell me where to get a dress that looks like the one Faith wore in her video, “If I had to do it all again”..or something to that effect.


  2. emma says

    I have a dark brown satin mini-skirt w/ box pleats that I’d love to wear for fall.  Can I make it work this fall season?  Seems every skirt is longer.

  3. says

    I also would like to know, how do you find out about “samples sales” in Charlotte or Atlanta?  I would think they would come to Atlanta first before Charlotte.  But, is there such a thing is a “traveling sample sale”?  Looking for sample sale resources outside of NY and LA.  Thanks!

  4. Eva says

    Can anyone tell me about local off-price stores in their area that sell the latest in high-end contemporary merchandise?  Rock and Republic, Seven, Juicy, etc…  Brands like this

    All areas would be great for me.

  5. Linda J. says

    Are there many sample sales that accomodate the plus size sisters? The chunky but funky like to look good for less too.

    Also what are good quality stores for plus size women either online or in NYC?

  6. Mary says

    In addtion to all of the great comments above, shopping online for the best deals can be very budget-friendly. I just bought a great JP Tod’s bag on EFASHIONHOUSE.COM (awesome site) for over 80%off and everything’s authentic!

  7. Michele says

    Has anybody heard of Bag, Bororw or Steal?  I saw them on the news in LA recently and I want to make sure they’re legit.  On the news they showed hot, hot bags, from $500-$2000, that you could get through their membership program.  I saw them on Good Morning America and their president comes from Nordstrom and Lands’ End, sooooo, I’m tempted but it seems too good to be true.  But it sounds brilliant.  Help!

  8. Luci says

    These are good tips. I just read an Amazon ebook by A. Chenot and am looking for more info about stretching my dollar. Everything really goes on sale! There are sooo many good sites that compare the prices of goods.

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